Chavismo pt. II is off to a rocky start.
Last week, international media outlets got word of Venezuela’s toilet paper shortage and plan to import 50 million toilet paper rolls before supermarkets were totally wiped clean. This is a major setback for Chávez’s successor, who has carried out Chávez’s tradition of controlling markets and setting rigid price controls.
Scarcity is nothing new to Venezuelans. Venezuelan residents are accustomed to scarcities of milk, sugar, and chicken. The following video went viral in early 2013, showing Venezuelans fighting at a grocery store’s meat counter over chicken. The video’s narration begins, “Any random day in a Supermarket in Maracaibo … everything appears normal … until it is rumored that the chicken is arriving!”
The jovial, light-hearted shoppers begin pushing, shoving, and throwing elbow as the narrator explains that there has not been chicken in Venezuela since December.
However, this time seems different. Seventy year-old Maria Rojas said, “Even at my age, I’ve never seen this” as she spent two weeks searching for toilet paper until she finally found some at a supermarket in Caracas.
As shoppers like Rojas spend their days searching for basic goods instead of working or contributing to the economy, chaos ensues. Maduro’s government is scrambling to come up with a decent explanation for the shortages, and has thus far come up with two meager solutions: blaming it on the media, and importing large quantities into the country.
Maduro’s Commerce Minister, Alejandro Fleming, blamed the shortage on a "media campaign that has been generated to disrupt the country," in turn causing widespread panic and excessive demand from Venezuelans. According to the government’s consumption forecasts, Venezuelans usually consume 125 million rolls per month. Fleming stated that they are inclined to believe that they will consume 40 million more rolls this month, due to the crisis.
This is not to say that Venezuelans are actually consuming 40 million more rolls of toilet paper per month — indeed, there is lots of hoarding going on as citizens lose more and more trust in the country’s broken markets and collapsing private sector. A large part of the problem lies in the fact that the central government feels the need to forecast consumption and suppress prices for each industry, instead of let the markets operate and react to demand fluctuations on their own.
The second insufficient solution Maduro’s regime is offering to make up for the shortage is to import 50 million rolls of toilet paper into the country, along with 760,000 tons of food to make up for long-standing food shortages. While many of us millennials don’t remember the shortages in the Soviet Union, we should know that they looked very similar to today’s Venezuela. In the Soviet Union, government price controls (below the market level) only caused the shortages to worsen. If Maduro thinks that 50 million rolls of toilet paper and 760,000 tons of food is the solution to the shortages, then I would recommend that he take a history lesson. Indeed, they will only make the shortages worse.
If there is one thing that the toilet paper shortage does show, it is that Maduro’s leadership is just another leaf from Chávez’s book of self-imposed restrictions and suffering. As long as he continues wearing the chavismo jacket and blaming his country’s problems on the media, we can predict more hardship (and less toilet paper) for the Venezuelan people.